Richmond, Virginia native Jeff Simmermon may not be the biggest mixed martial arts fan, but he has learned to pay close attention to all kinds of punchlines.
But don’t take our word for it. Skim the standup comic’s recent piece in Newsweek to observe firsthand how the James Madison University grad is dealing with some of life’s biggest challenges.
Nobody ever said life was fair but like his comedy, Simmermon doesn’t like to go back on old material.
Take martial arts, for instance.
For Simmermon, the discipline and effectiveness of martial arts helped shape and reinforce his storytelling techniques to the point where he can tailor it for different audiences. He credits New York City’s 5 Points Academy Muay Thai and boxing gym for sharpening his mental and physical tools.
“I approach it the way my coaches approached Muay Thai,” Simmermon explained to MMA Crossfire on the phone from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York. “Today, we’re gonna throw 100 kicks right, 100 kicks left. Today, we’re going to get hit in the face. So, the lesson of getting punched in the face in class translates very directly to standup, which is learning how to adjust to a reaction you didn’t prefer and would not like to repeat, but is nevertheless happening. And how to handle the tremendous adrenaline rushes you get so you don’t get crazy and start throwing your punches too wide, and getting gassed out early.
“And then I would say it’s the discipline of every night,” Simmermon continued. “What’s this joke, what’s that joke? Is there a word here? Is there a pause there? Let’s review the tape. How do we get that form down to where it becomes muscle memory? It can be muscle memory for your body and face like a combo could be muscle memory for … Like how many times did Ronda Rousey drill that armbar?”
The spectre of COVID-19 has impacted everyone, including Simmermon’s resident state of New York. He has two albums, 2017’s “And I am Not Lying,” which reached No. 1 on the iTunes comedy charts.
The second one, “Why you should be Happy,” was released in early May.
But with ‘The Big Apple’ still shut down, standup gigs are still hard to come by.
So there was some thoughts to sort through when asked about Joe Rogan’s recent $100 million dollar deal to exclusively distribute the Joe Rogan Experience podcast on Spotify.
“As a comedian, great for Joe Rogan, awesome,” Simmermon said. “The guy’s built an audience and a following over years and years and really put in the work. Congratulations to him for that. I have complicated feelings about it but I don’t want anything I say to take an away from that. I’m never going to tell another comic that they shouldn’t have something good that their worked hard for and got lucky to get. But as an artist on Spotify who gets paid 1/100 of a cent per track play, I think it’s appalling that they give someone $100 million dollars when they don’t pay their smaller artists at all.
“As a comic whose up-and-coming or not, I’m like, ‘Why not just give five comics $20 million or 100 comics $1 million? I don’t know. It just kind of seems like … it’s not Joe Rogan’s fault and I’m not trying to say as a person he shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from it … if somebody offered me $100 million, I’d take the money and run for the hills. I’d get a couple of gold bars and a shotgun and that’s the last you’d hear from me, so good for him. But I think we need to talk about a system where they don’t pay their artists a f*cking red cent. You have to be so popular on Spotify just to get a rent cheque out of them.
If Beyonce was dependant entirely on her Spotify royalties, she’d be renting a one bedroom in Brooklyn in a building next to mine.
Rogan has not commented much on the deal. His reaction is quoted in a New York Times article as “Weirdly richer, like it doesn’t register. Seems fake.”
“It feels gross,” Rogan continued in the Times piece. “Especially right now, when people can’t work.”
“My problem is totally with Spotify … they have team meetings in fancy places and they give their employees free lunches,” Simmermon detailed. “And I’m out here putting out records and I’m not getting a f*king penny, so let’s talk about that. Spotify has the ability to distribute royalties more equitably and they have the responsibility to expose newer artists in a more active way.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictive lockdown measures in the state of New York have helped put some of the harsh realities of life in their proper perspective.
“I miss my family,” Simmermon said thoughtfully. “I miss getting on a plane and being in Virginia in an hour and then be able to hug my mom, hug my dad, run a couple of errands, go out to dinner. A distant second would be crowds, I miss having doing a hot show for a hot crowd in Brooklyn.
“I miss going to 5 Points Academy. It was a part of what my fiancee and I enjoyed together. It was such a great community and I miss it so bad.”
Like a Tyson fight. Alright, maybe not quite.
“I’d either want to see a greatest hits like a Tyson – Holyfield, like a rematch of the 80s all over again,” Simmermon said when asked about the imminent comeback of the ‘Baddest man on the planet.’ That’s probably what’s going to happen … I think the most exciting rematch would be … A Tyson – Holyfield rematch would like to be like seeing the latest Star Wars movie where its like “Oh look, there’s wrinkly Han Solo. That’s not true excitement.
“As a person who would want excitement, I would want to see somebody I’ve never heard of who has a shot of winning,” Simmermon explained. “I think it would speak well for Tyson if he put himself in a position where he could be taken down by an up-and-comer. Honestly, the most exciting entertainment is the stuff where you don’t know what’s going to happen. And he cannot provide that in the same way anymore but it’s the pleasure of seeing fight in the 80s was … That provided a thrill that’s now gone, let’s see somebody who can provide that ‘X factor’ and that’s probably a person we don’t know.
“The theme is support new artists, whether its boxers or comedians. It’s where I come from again.”
The recent horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others have put America at another pivotal crossroad. The spotlight is on difficult conversations like racism and equality.
Simmermon’s standup has a firm grip on these kinds of discussions as a southern boy. Like local natives Missy Elliott, Pharrell, Teddy Riley, and Timbaland before him, Simmermon is determined to succeed on his own terms, while acknowledging the broad shoulders that his story-telling comedy stands on.
He saluted his top four comedians, Wanda Sykes, Bill Burr, Gary Gulman, and Patton Oswalt, breaking down why they resonate so successfully with audiences.
“I think they’re all very good at taking very emotionally complicated situations, putting the laughs first, without overlooking what is really going on beneath the surface,” Simmermon admired. “They all do it in very different ways.
“Wanda Sykes, first of all, she’s a hometown hero. She went to Hampton University, which is right next to my hometown. What Wanda Sykes does in her latest special that I really love, is she talks about these issues that everyone is talking about and everybody is sick of talking about like Donald Trump. It’s pretty hard to talk about that guy in a new way, but she manages to convey a point of view that you’re onboard with (or that I’m onboard with anyway) but in a way that still feels fresh, even so it’s been so done. And then she talks about tensions in her marriage and aging and the frustration that comes with being a parent. And coming out later in life as a black woman, and she talks about this and it’s all solid jokes but I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that must have been so hard, all of it.’
“And Bill Burr’s aggression, he’s pretty clear about the ‘toxic masculinity’ stuff and he address it in ways that are very relatable and down to earth. He gets this whole audience that would recoil from the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ to embrace it and accept it and laugh at it, and that is something I try to do in my own comedy.
“Gary Gulman does it with like mental and emotional health, and also toxic masculinity that he is.
“And then Pat Oswalt is from Virginia too, so he’s another hometown hero and he’s just f*cking awesome, that’s inarguable (Laughs).
“The way that all of these people talk about all of their traumas in these ways that are open and relatable, but funny first. They are great storytellers. I would say that not of all them adhere to the hero’s journey arc the way I would, but they do it.”
Not the comics we deserve, but perhaps the comics we need in this crazy world.
So, are you happy now?